’tis the season… for Christmas music

Just read a post re: Christmas music over at Alise Write’s page, and it reminded me of a facebook note that I put together on my favorite Christmas albums a few years ago, before I was blogging.  The following post is a slightly updated version of that note….  

What is my favorite Christmas album?  To tell the truth, there’s no way I could name just one album — I love such a variety of music, my favorite at a particular moment will depend on what I’m in the mood for.

That said, here are my favorite Christmas albums by category… sort of.

The Best of the Best:
Michael W. Smith, Christmas:  the first Christmas album from Michael.  This album isn’t just a collection of songs, it is a woven piece of music that flows together from start to finish.  The best way to listen to this one is sitting by the fire, lights low, no distractions — i.e., really listening to the music, absorbing the lyrics… which becomes a very worshipful experience of the “light come into the world” (lux venit) as you’re reminded that “all is well” because “Emmanuel… our God is with us”.

Charlie Brown Christmas, Vince Guaraldi:  great not only for the nostalgia aspect, but really excellent jazz arrangements.

George Winston, December:  Solo piano….  who needs anything else?  He has some of the best arrangements of Christmas hymns, and the album makes “artsy fartsy” words like “colorful” and “rich textures” pop into my head.  They could drop the bonus track they added to the later release, but this is really a nice listen.

The first time I wrote this up, I forgot to include the Relient K Christmas album.  The album is a really good mix of humor (like their version of 12 days of Christmas)and intimate worship:   “the first time that you opened your eyes, did you realize that you would be my saviour? and the first breath that left your lips, did you know that it would change the world forever?’   And really, “Santa Claus is thumbing to town?” Who comes up with off the wall stuff like that?  (I love it.)

The Best of the Rest:
Amy Grant, A Christmas Album:  Amy’s first Christmas album is really well done, though a significant factor in my liking it stems from the nostalgic aspect — it’s the first Christmas album my wife Valerie and I picked up together, the year we got engaged over Christmas.  People say Nat’s version of the Christmas Song is the best, and I can’t argue… but Amy’s version on this album is really good…..

Ron Diller’s first Christmas album.  Our worship pastor introduced us to this one a few years ago.  Great guitar picking on a whole bunch of Christmas favorites from an Oregon local.

The Young Messiah:  this mid-80’s arrangement probably sounds dated now, but any good arrangement of Handel’s Messiah works in the Christmas season.

Alvin and the Chipmunks: I can only listen to it once a season, but I have to listen to it once a season….

Collectively, the “old guys”:  Frank, Bing, Nat, Johnny Mathis, Dean Martin

The obscure: The Voices of Christmas, from Walter Schumann (1955).  I’ll be surprised if anyone outside of my  siblings and I recognize this one.  The favorite song that stuck in our memory was called “Christmas Tree” with the chorus that counted down cool things about Christmas  –“big surprise, presents nice…..oooohhhh what a happy Christmas Party, what a Merry Christmas tree!”  This was the signature Xmas album for us as kids, though it’s definitely dated today.

Merry Christmas, Stan Kenton:  This is the old high school band geek coming out here.  Stan Kenton had the classic jazz band with fantastic horn sections (that’s trumpets & trombones for you non-geeks) with great harmonies and counter melodies.  If you know old horn players, Bud Brisbois and Maynard Ferguson are two of many that got their start playing with Stan’s band.

As I look at my list, I realize there’s not much there that isn’t old…. what’s that say about me? Hmmm…


So, what’s your favorite Christmas music?  Do you prefer listening to whole albums or individual songs?

And, has anybody out there actually listened to the Walter Schumann album or any old Stan Kenton Christmas music? (Not likely for Kenton… even less likely for Schumann!)

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6 Responses to ’tis the season… for Christmas music

  1. Wow, Relient K makes the best of the best? Talk about eclectic. This is a pretty good list.

    • I suppose Relient K should probably be in the best of the rest, but it has been the album we listen to most for the last 3 or 4 years. Probably because the kids like it too — it’s our best choice with the whole family in the car on a long trip (which we have every year at Christmas.) The other 3 in the best of the best category are all there because I love the music — the melodies, harmonies, arrangements, etc. Rel K is more due to the combination of humor and a couple songs that really touch the heart strings (and use excellent harmonies/arrangements).

      Ask me again in 10 years if they’re still among my favorites…. that will be the true test, I suppose!

  2. Dan Martin says:

    What about Trans-Siberian Orchestra (Christmas Eve & Other Stories, The Christmas Attic), any of the Christmas albums by Mannheim Steamroller, or the Canadian Brass? I prefer these non-verbal albums with a twist. That, and Handel’s Messiah!

    • Would you believe that I don’t actually own any TSO or Mannheim Steamroller albums, and I’ve never heard of the Canadian Brass? I do like Trans-Siberian Orchestra and Mannheim Steamroller, but I just never bought any albums. Crazy, huh?

      We do have the DVD from TSO with the girl that sees the dream-like show at an abandoned theatre — really like that one.

      Thanks for dropping by, Dan!

      • Dan Martin says:

        Oh, dude, if you’ve never heard of the Canadian Brass, you’re in for a treat. A brass quintet of absolutely virtuosic players who also don’t take themselves too seriously. My first recommendation (not Christmas) would be The Essential Canadian Brass which includes, in my humble opinion, the absolute definitive rendition of “Amazing Grace” ever, along with Richard Strauss’ “Thus Spake Zarathustra” fanfare and an absolutely dazzling “Flight of the Tuba Bee.” Yes, that’s just what you think it is…Chopin on a tuba!

    • Wow! You’re right, the Canadian Brass guys are amazing. (Just sampled about 15 songs between the essential mix and some of the Christmas stuff.)
      Flight of the Bumblebee on a tuba? There just aren’t a whole lot of tuba players that could do that, I imagine. They do sound like they’re all virtuosos.

      LIke the brass harmonies, much the same reason I always liked the Kenton stuff. Back in high school, a couple of the other trumpet players and I used to talk about “wouldn’t it be cool if” we could get a job playing on main street disneyland. (I lived half hour away back then.) That’s the sort of thing I picture with these guys — a handful of brass players, hanging around playin and having fun! Except there’s no way I could hang with these guys — so smooth, clean.

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